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The unconventional becomes the norm

23 April 2015


Who decides when the unconventional become the norm? 


The once outlandish a part of everyday reality? In the 1980s, apocalyptic projections had the number of cars on UK roads doubling by the year 2000. Surely an absurd suggestion! Where were all these vehicles to go? It all seemed inconceivable back then, but yet here we are, deep into the 21st century with car volumes duly doubled (more, in fact) and the world carrying on regardless. We’ve adapted, accepted and coped.


Recently, Apple reported it has sold more than 650 million iPhones. That works out at nearly one for every 11 human beings on the planet. Double those sales to factor in other brands and you get the true scale of this invention’s impact. Analysts projected it, commentators baulked - but the vast majority of you have a smartphone in your pockets right now (if indeed you’re not actually reading this article on one). Again, an unlikely projection recognised only years later for its linkage to a seismic societal impact.


Of course, there are plenty of projections that suggest potentially huge workplace connotations - but just as importantly, there are many that don’t. One that caught my eye recently was in contract caterer Elior UK’s report, The Millennial Eater, in which a thousand people aged 18 to 30 were surveyed to work out their workplace eating preferences. The figure that got me was this – in just 10 years’ time, they suggest, these Millennials will represent a full 75 per cent of the workforce. 


Firstly, that’s a global figure, not a UK one. Secondly, there are pressures at the other end of the age scale that will surely see many people who’d otherwise have retired continuing on in employment. And thirdly, many point out that this figure is outlandish, citing existing demographic curves.


And anyway, just how much will really change? As much as Elior’s report paints a picture of an age group keen on choice and convenience (Millennials demand flexible working, coffees to go, and are keen on big-boy brands), it also shows how 18 to 30-year-olds are cooking more at home. Tasty and inexpensive trump organic and sustainable, or even healthy food - and that’s the same as it ever was. Economic realities and human nature are the most powerful determinants of behaviour, no matter the age group.


Anecdotal evidence also suggests that Millennials continue to be just as keen as their forebears to do business in offices and other places of work rather than conforming to the ‘digital nomad’ stereotype that the coming together of other trends can easily – and erroneously – suggest. Assumptions about the impact of technologies are one thing. About human nature? Quite another.


FMs will always need to adapt to change. But looking at what’s required of the workplace from a purely human perspective, Millennials are likely to have similar demands to all those who’ve gone before them.


Martin Read is managing editor at FM World